N Gauge Layouts - Rorgyle, Abingdon, Littleton Curve and Penwick

Littleton Curve


(This is an abridged and updated version of the article which appeared in Railway Modeller)*

            Littleton Curve was actually started before Abingdon was finished. For some time I had been thinking that a proper tail-chaser would be interesting to build – Penwick was a sort of tail-chaser, the original Rorgyle and Abingdon both being terminus to fiddleyard layouts.         

            Originally I hadn’t planned on it being so small. It sort of came about because of conversations I’d had at exhibitions. These conversations were along the lines of people telling me; “I/we haven’t got the space to build a scenic layout”, “I can’t scratchbuild buildings and the kit ones don’t look as good as scratchbuilt ones”, “I’d like to make layouts and exhibit them but don’t have any transport” and “I haven’t got time to build a model railway”. A lot of my replies to these people involved me trying to persuade them that if they have the enthusiasm to make a model railway they shouldn’t allow themselves to be put off by the above mentioned problems. It was after one show in particular (I forget which) that I thought that perhaps the next layout could be designed to show what was possible in a small space.

            Initial thoughts were about how small it could possibly be. It seemed that the smallest diameter that could be used successfully would be just less than two feet, allowing the actual baseboards to be about 2ft by 2ft. (The final size is 2ft 6in by 2ft to allow for a passing loop and siding). The addition of a siding, which comes off the line near the front, also adds some interest both for the operator and the visitor. Only the front half, it was decided, should be scenic which meant there could be a passing loop in the fiddleyard at the back to allow stock to be changed without stopping a train running round. Various full sized plans were drawn up to see if it looked workable.


            Next, before buying the necessary track and turnouts, the station building, goods shed and signal box were purchased. The station and goods shed both come from the Ratio range and the signal box is produced by Kestrel. Each of these kits were fairly straightforward to build with clear instructions. The kits are well detailed and lend themselves to being modified if necessary.

            I used the now defunct Humbrol acrylics for all painted areas as they were easy to mix and could be thinned down with water. Before painting the stonework I looked at numerous photographs and actual buildings to try and get some idea of how it should look. I painted the building’s walls a mortar colour first and then dry brushed them with a basic stone colour. I then picked out individual stones in a variety of suitable similar colours. Finally a thin black wash was applied in places to start the weathering process.

            How the roof on any buildings looks I think is quite important as the eye-line for most onlookers is above the layout. I must admit I enjoy making the roofs look very weathered with different coloured tiles and streaks down from the ridge tiles and chimneys.

            Additional details were applied to the buildings such as posters and timetables etc. from the Tiny Signs range.

            Once these kits were complete they were placed on the selection of plans to see which looked the most suitable and with a few modifications the one seen on the layout was chosen.


             The frames for the baseboards are 2” x 1” softwood (or the metric equivalent) with the surface being made from Sundeala that I had left over when making Abingdon. The front section of the frame was reduced in height before being fixed together to allow the track to appear as if it were on a slight embankment on either side of the river. The section where the river was to be located was removed, the edges of the cut being sloped to give some idea of the banks. A small additional piece of Sundeala was glued underneath for the bed of the river.


             The trackwork used is Peco code 55 which was relatively new at the time. The turnouts, both in the scenic section and fiddleyard, were positioned and the lengths of flexible track cut to the right sizes to make up the plan. These were then secured in place with EvoStick and track pins. I don’t usually use track pins but they were necessary this time because of the very tight radius which meant the flexible track was constantly trying to straighten out. The rails themselves were connected with fishplates which were soldered to ensure that they were secure and for good electrical contact.

            The turnout for the goods yard is operated using the wire-in-tube method. The tube itself was inset into a groove in the Sundeala and taken behind the line of where the backboard is now situated. The operating end of the wire was bent upwards and has a piece of plastic tube placed over it to make it easier to hold and to prevent fingers getting hurt. The turnouts in the fiddleyard section were initially going to be operated by moving the tie-bar by hand but it was decided, for ease of control, again to use wire-in-tubes but this time to have the two wires coming to one point where one plastic tube was pushed over both the bent up ends. This arrangement allows both turnouts to be operated simultaneously.

            Once in place the track was connected to a controller and tested. There were a few problems to start with, mostly due to the tight radius, but with a few slight alterations in the line of the track everything ran reasonably well. At this point it should be mentioned that steam locomotives and large diesels are not really suited to this type of setup – they tend to derail on turnouts. This wasn’t a problem on Littleton as it was built to be operated with small diesels and a DMU.

            After the rail sides had been painted a suitable rust colour and the sleepers weathered the track was ballasted using ballast from the Woodlands Scenic range. A very light grey colour was used to make it look as if the line had recently been re-ballasted. The ballast was fixed in the usual way using watered down PVA wood glue mixed with a few drops of washing up liquid, applied with an eye-dropper. Obviously great care needed to be taken when painting and ballasting in the area of the turnouts.

            With the trackwork complete it was all tested again and any problem bits of ballast or paint removed.


            I made the backboard curved to try and give additional depth in the scenic area. The curve was drawn on the baseboard and shaped wooden supports were fixed into place on the fiddleyard side of the line. These were allowed to dry thoroughly so that when the 3mm MDF (with sections cut out where the track was to pass through) was glued and pinned in place, they did not get pushed out of position by the backboard trying to straighten out. Once set in place the sky was painted onto the board using those little match pots of emulsion paint you can get from DIY stores.

            I like to paint skies with a darker blue towards the top of the board working down to almost white at the bottom to create an impression of the real sky which looks lighter nearer the horizon.

            On Abingdon I painted a range of buildings and trees on the backboards but this time decided to see if I could position the scenery on the layout in such a way as to draw the viewer’s attention away from the sky/layout join. The hill sort of suggests that the scenery continues down the other side.


             After having been suitably painted to look similar to the buildings, the tunnel mouth and road bridge sides were fixed in place. This then allowed me to work out where the hill and embankments for the bridge would be so that the sides of the layout could be cut and fixed in place. The sides were there, not only for screening the fiddleyard from the onlookers, but also to provide part of the structure for allowing the layout to be transported safely (more on this later).

            Next, using a selection of the longest stock, the distance between the track and edge of the platform was worked out. As the track is tightly curved it is very important that the platform edge does not foul the rolling stock. (A pencil can be taped on the centre of the inside face of a carriage)

            The platform supporting wall, made from brickpaper over card, was glued in place and a structure for supporting the platform, car park and road up to the bridge was formed from a latticework of thick card. The surfaces for these areas were then fixed in place and were again constructed from card. The paving stones on the edge of the platform were made by scoring a line 4mm from the edge and then scoring lines at 4mm intervals inside this area. These squares were then painted various shades of light grey. All the work on the edging was done before fitting the platform/carpark surface in place.

            The river bridge sides were made from thick card sandwiched between stone wall effect plasticard. The capping stones were created by scoring deepish lines across thick cardboard and any bare ends were covered with Pollyfilla and suitably shaped. These were again painted to be similar to the other structures and then glued in place.

            The foundations for the groundwork were produced by cutting polystyrene ceiling tiles into contour-like shapes and building them up to create any raised areas of ground. A couple of the areas on the side of the hill around the tunnel were cut away so that cork bark could be used to represent rock faces. Many people use filler and paint over cork bark to obtain different effects for different types of rock but I chose mine so it could be left au naturel so to speak. All the areas that were not road, rail or river were then covered with a layer of Polyskim which was smoothed down as much as possible whilst still wet. It is well worth making sure that where natural ground meets man-made structures, the meeting place is as natural as possible so that one doesn’t just end and the other start, although a lot of this can be achieved later on using different types of ground cover.

            Once the Polyskim had dried any other areas that were not satisfactory were either recoated or sanded down. All the ground surfaces were then painted; the road/platform/carpark areas in a suitable shade of darkish grey, later to be drybrushed with lighter greys to create the effects of weather or traffic. The natural areas were painted brown and the riverbed a combination of dark browns and greens, trying to capture the idea of weeds and depth.

            The natural scenic areas were all covered with a mix of dark and medium coloured flock powders, apart from those areas which I felt needed to be left bare. These included areas such as the pathway from the goods yard to the crossing near the signal box, the river embankments and some areas around structures such as the bridge, tunnel and signal box. These are the sort of places where the greenery has been worn away either by man or the elements.

            Following the fixing down of the buildings and the positioning of Scale Link spear fencing along the back of the platform, all the detailing began. First of all the ground cover was increased using a combination of course turf and foliage from a variety of manufactures including Woodland Scenics and Slaters. By looking at real life scenery it is possible to work out where overgrown areas should be and where weeds and such-like make unexpected appearances. Foliage of different hues of green was rolled up into a variety of different sized lumps to represent bushes and the trees came from manufactures including the Factree and 4D limited. The flowers were created by using small dabs of acrylic paint on the ground cover and bushes.

            People, vehicles, platform clutter, lamps and animals all add life to the layout and again come from a variety of manufactures. I usually found them while hunting through the trade stands at exhibitions, although a lot of model shops stock a good variety as well.

            After the majority of work was complete I began work on the river. First a layer of Humbrol gloss varnish was applied by dropping fairly large amounts from a brush onto the river bed. This layer was then allowed to dry. The process was repeated several times until a reasonable thickness was starting to build up. Very small stones from the garden were then positioned in suitable locations along the side of the river. Several more layers of varnish were applied which also had the effect of holding the stones in place. Woodland Scenics field grass was used to represent the weeds.


             Like on Abingdon, the signals used are from the Ratio range and are reasonably easy to make as long as you are patient. They are operated by thread which runs from the underside of the signal to a lever which can be situated anywhere required. On this layout the levers for the two signals are located along the back edge of the fiddleyard.

 Locomotives and rolling stock

             All the items which ran on Littleton Curve were originally bought for Penwick (details about which have been submitted to Railway Modeller for future publication) ten years previously. The locomotives included a Class 20, Class 25, Class 33 and a DMU in BR green and were all from the Graham Farish range. The rolling stock was a mixture of Peco and Minitrix. The controller used at exhibitions was the same as used on both Penwick and Abingdon.

            On some of the stock for Littleton I had a go at fitting DG couplings to avoid having the big finger from the sky uncoupling goods wagons/vans on the Goods Shed siding at the front of the layout. As I write this I still have to fit them to the rolling stock for Rorgyle before its first exhibition.

 Transport and exhibitions

             Littleton Curve was made, not only for the fun of producing a layout fairly quickly, but to encourage others to get involved with model railways. To this end it was made with exhibitions in mind.

            In order to enable the layout to be transported safely it has an MDF box cover which also doubles as the facia and supports the lighting when on display. The layout itself is fitted with a handle on its side. The legs, which are about 4 feet long, form two crosses and seem about able to cope with the most uneven floors and can be quickly taken apart and travel flat. All the stock, controllers, lights and curtain (for hiding the legs) fit into one large travel bag.


            This was a fun layout to build and I learnt some useful lessons which I have tried to put into practice on Rorgyle. Littleton Curve is now sort of retired but it did a fair few exhibitions across the country in its time and won some awards. I know for a fact that there were at least three different versions of this layout built by other people including an Australian outback one! One version was almost an exact copy and went on the exhibition circuit under the same name.

Littleton Curve has come out of retirement and has done one exhibition in 2008 and is provisionally booked to do a couple more. (See the home page for exhibition details)

I have a plan page of Littleton Curve but the overall view photograph just about says it all as well.

*If you have saved all your old copies of Railway Modeller you may be able to find the May issue of 1997 which featured the layout.